Anarchist symbolism

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Anarchists have employed certain symbols for their cause, including most prominently the circle-A (Ⓐ) and the black flag, although anarchists have historically largely denied the importance of symbols to political movement.[1] Since the revival of anarchism around the start of the 21st-century concurrent with the rise of the anti-globalization movement, anarchist cultural symbols are widely present.[2]

Red flag[edit]

The red flag was one of first anarchist symbols. It was widely used in late nineteenth century by anarchists worldwide.[3] Peter Kropotkin preferred the usage of the red flag.[4]

"The red banner, which has always stood for liberty, frightens the executioners because it is so red with our blood. [...] Those red and black banners wave over us mourning our dead and wave over our hopes for the dawn that is breaking."
Louise Michel

Usage of the red flag by anarchists disappeared after the October Revolution, when red flags started to be associated only with communist parties and bureaucratic, reformist and authoritarian social democracy.[3]

Black flag[edit]

The black flag is, among other things, the traditional anarchist symbol.

The black flag, and the color black in general, have been associated with anarchism since the 1880s. Many anarchist collectives contain the word "black" in their names. There have been a number of anarchist periodicals entitled Black Flag.

The uniform blackness of the flag is in stark contrast to the colorful flags typical of most nation states. Additionally, as a white flag has been used to request parley or to surrender, the black flag symbolizes defiance and opposition to surrender. This character can be written as Unicode codepoint U+2691; ⚑.

Historical origins[edit]

The black flag represents the absence of a flag, and thus stands in opposition to the very notion of nation states. In that light, the flag can be seen as a rejection of the concept of representation, or the idea that any person or institution can adequately represent a group of individuals. Modern anarchism has a shared ancestry with – amongst other ideologies – socialism, a movement strongly associated with the red flag. As anarchism became more and more distinct from socialism in the 1880s, it adopted the black flag in an attempt to differentiate itself.[1] Some anarchists at the time, such as Peter Kropotkin, preferred to continue using the red flag rather than adopt the black.[5]

Subsequent usage[edit]

The black flag first became associated with anarchism in the 1880s. The French anarchist paper, Le Drapeau Noir ("The Black Flag"), which existed until 1882, is one of the first published references to use black as an anarchist color. Black International was the name of a London anarchist group founded in July 1881. Louise Michel, participant in the Paris Commune of 1871, flew the black flag on March 9, 1883, during demonstration of the unemployed in Paris, France. An open-air meeting of the unemployed was broken up by the police and around 500 demonstrators, with Michel at the front carrying a black flag and shouting "Bread, work, or lead!" marched off towards the Boulevard Saint-Germain. The crowd pillaged three baker's shops before the police attacked. Michel was arrested and sentenced to six years solitary confinement. Public pressure soon forced the granting of an amnesty.[6] According to Michel, the "black flag is the flag of strikes and the flag of those who are hungry."[7]

The black flag soon made its way to America. On November 27, 1884, the black flag was displayed in Chicago at an Anarchist demonstration.[8] According to the English Language newspaper of the Chicago anarchists, it was "the fearful symbol of hunger, misery and death."[9]


Clockwise from top left: The circle-A is commonly used as a symbol for anarchism. For example, the stylized "anarcho-punk" circle-A and the symbol used in the crest of the Federal Council of Spain (International Workingmen's Association). It is additionally the shoulder sleeve insignia for the United States Third Army.

The Circle-A is almost certainly the best-known present-day symbol for anarchy. It is a monogram that consists of the capital letter "A" surrounded by the capital letter "O". The letter "A" is derived from the first letter of "anarchy" or "anarchism" in most European languages and is the same in both Latin and Cyrillic scripts. The "O" stands for order. Together they stand for "society seeks order in anarchy" (French: la société cherche l'ordre dans l'anarchie), a phrase written by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in his 1840 book What Is Property?[10][11]

The circle-A long predates the anarcho-punk movement, which was part of the punk rock movement of the late 1970s. However, the punk movement helped spread the circle-A symbol more widely, and helped raise awareness of it among non-anarchists. This process began with the use of anarchist imagery when members of the band Crass become aware of the symbol while traveling through France.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Iain Mckay, ed. (2008). "Appendix – The Symbols of Anarchy". An Anarchist FAQ. Stirling: AK Press. ISBN 1-902593-90-1. OCLC 182529204. 
  2. ^ Williams, Leonard (September 2007). "Anarchism Revived". New Political Science. 29 (3): 297–312. doi:10.1080/07393140701510160. 
  3. ^ a b "Barwy anarchistyczne: Skąd czarne i czarno-czerwone flagi?" [Anarchist colours: Where are black and black-red flags from?]. (in Polish). Centrum Informacji Anarchistycznej. 2012-06-19. Retrieved 2016-09-04. 
  4. ^ Kropotkin, Peter (1998). Act for Yourselves. Articles from Freedom 1886-1907. Freedom Press. p. 128. ISBN 0900384387. 
  5. ^ Kropotkin, Peter, "Act for Yourselves", p. 128
  6. ^ George Woodcock, Anarchism, pp. 251–2
  7. ^ The Red Virgin: Memoirs of Louise Michel, p. 168
  8. ^ Paul Avrich, The Haymarket Tragedy, p. 145
  9. ^ quoted by Paul Avrich, The Haymarket Tragedy, p. 144
  10. ^ Proudhon, Pierre-Joseph (1994). Kelley, Donald R.; Smith, Bonnie G, eds. Proudhon: What is Property?. Cambridge University Press. p. 209. ISBN 978-0-521-40556-0. ISBN 0-52140556-4. 
  11. ^ See Proudhon, Pierre-Joseph; Qu'est-ce que la propriété ? ou Recherche sur le principe du Droit et du Gouvernement on Google Books. 1st edition: 1840. Paris: Brocard.
  12. ^ Appleford, Steve (June 10, 2005). "The Only Way to Be – Anarchy!". LA CityBeat. Los Angeles, California: Southland Publishing. Archived from the original on 2005-12-24. Retrieved August 30, 2007. 

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